LIU-BROOKLYN BLACKBIRDS: Finishing Ain't Easy!
Make that six wins in a row, and 11-0 at home this season. That's all well and good, but make no mistake, there is nothing easy about defending their 2010-2011 NEC Championship. Coach Dan Hurley's Wagner Seahawks refuse to lose and continue to leave Flatbush with no margin for error. That's what made LIU's Thursday night game against Sacred Heart so harrowing, for the Pioneers took the locals into overtime before Flatbush pulled out another game at the Wellness Center, and by doing so, stayed a game ahead of Wagner for first place in the Northeast Conference with three games left in the regular season.
Jamal Olasewere went into Thursday's game already having been named Co-NEC Player of the Week off his 32 point performance against St. Francis (NY). And against Sacred Heart, he powered the Blackbirds again with a game high twenty-seven points, as well as leading all players in rebounds with eleven. Joining Jamal Olaswere among Brooklyn's twenty point scorers were Julian Boyd and Michael Culpo who both dropped twenty points each against the Pioneers. Culpo in particular was deadly from three-point range, burying six of ten shots from beyond the arch. Jason Brickman distributed a game high nine assists to go along with nine points.
Flatbush and Sacred Heart traded leads ten times in the first half. With 4:45 left, a three pointer by Pioneer, Shane Gibson, tied the score for only a third time. But from then on Brooklyn went up by as many as six after a Julian Boyd three-pointer with 0:59 left, and closed out the half with a 40-37 lead.
The second half was nothing short of a problem for the Blackbirds. After just two and a half minutes into things, Sacred Heart had wrestled the lead from Flatbush, who watched the Pioneers increase their lead to as many as eleven against the home team. It wasn't until the 7:23 mark that Flatbush was able to tie this game again at sixty-three all off a Michael Culpo three. The Blackbirds held court again until Shane Gibson buried yet another three-pointer for Sacred Heart to tie the game at eighty-one apiece.
With 0:02 left in the game, LIU had the ball exactly where they wanted it; in the hands of Jamal Olasewere. But he couldn't nail the game winning shot in regulation. So, into overtime they went.
The Blackbirds never trailed during the five minute extra session. By 3:25 left, they built up a double-digit lead and never looked back. They did some of their best work from the line, shooting 12/15, on their way to outscoring Sacred Heart 22-10 for a 103-91 game final.
And it's a good thing too. Wagner won their seventh game in a row to improve their Conference record to 13-2, and 22-4 overall. Brooklyn meanwhile, improves to 20-7 overall, and remains in first place by a game over Wagner with a 14-1 Conference mark.
On the feel-good front, yes, the Blackbirds remain undefeated at home extending a streak that reaches back to last season. They have now won twenty-three consecutive games at the Wellness Center. They are 11-0 this season. Their final home game will be Senior Day, this Saturday afternoon against Quinnipiac.
The Blackbirds will then close out their regular season on the road, where they have not fared as well. They have a 7-7 record as visitors. For the Brooklyn Downtowners, their season ends in New Jersey with games against Fairleigh Dickinson and Monmouth. As Brooklyn plays Saturday afternoon, Wagner should know the result of LIU's game when they take the court in Staten Island against Fairleigh Dickinson later in the evening. Then it's off to the road for Wagner as well. And there's the rub. While Brooklyn has only played .500 basketball away from the Wellness Center (2-0 in neutral sites), Wagner has excelled on the road this season where they have amassed an 11-2 record.
The Northeast Conference is culminating in a great 'ol race. Three cheers for NYC Basketball.